Fstoppers' Featured Guest Blogger: Jeremy Cowart

Jeremy Cowart:
"I am a Photographer. I love to Give Back. I love to Travel. I love to dream up Big Ideas. I love to Tweet. I love to Google+. I love to Teach. I love to make Art. Lastly, I love my family more than all but they don’t have a fancy link. You’ll just have to imagine the best family ever."
"A Letter to the Photo Industry"

We're all searching for something in the photography industry.

The six-figure advertising job
The touring photographer for the biggest band
The photo credit in Rolling Stone
The sold-out fine art show
The wedding photo spread in Martha Stewart
The hottest HDR photo on Google+
The best gear
The world travels
The feature in PDN
The book deal
The agent to "launch our career"
The most liked Facebook page
The most Twitter followers
The sold out workshops
The sponsors

Do any of these things matter?

I'm not here to squash any dreams. Dreams and goals are awesome. I have lots of both. But they're changing. They used to look like the list above.

Then I achieved a bunch of them.

I've worked in over 20 countries. 3 coffee table photography books have been published with my name on the cover. I've had the photo credit in every major magazine. I've shot a ton of celebrities. I toured the country for 3 months as the tour photographer for the world's biggest pop star. I've shot advertising campaigns for major TV networks and record labels. I've got the Hollywood agent. I've sold out the workshops. I've got a Twitter following.

So you would think I've got a lot to talk about. But at the end of my life, I won't talk about any of the above. I won't tell my grandkids about any of the above.

So what will I tell them about?

I'll tell them about the time I met that woman who had just lost her husband. And how I took a photo of her and her 4 kids and combined it with a picture of her deceased husband to create their first-ever family portrait. They had never done a family picture together while he was living.

Or maybe I'll tell them about the portraits I took of the genocide survivors in Rwanda, standing with the killers of their families, who they had now reconciled with. Maybe I'll tell them what extreme forgiveness looks like in real life.

Maybe I'll tell them about the girl who was abused as a child by her father with acid. And how she always dreamed of a portrait with enough makeup and photoshop to cover her scars to see what she would have really looked like. I can tell them about her response when we gave her that portrait for the first time.

Perhaps I'll tell them how it felt to photograph Haitians just days after the earthquake and how empowering it was to let them speak their own minds through art and photography.

Hopefully by then I'll have scores of more stores like this to tell them.

I'm only 34 and have only been doing photography for 6 years. But I've learned a lot quickly. I've learned that it's not our tools or our skills or that matter. It's what we do with them that matters.

I ask that you'll use your tools and skills with me on December 10th, next month. I founded a world-wide photography movement called Help-Portrait. (Don't worry, this isn't some kind of sales pitch. You participating doesn't put money in my pocket.) This is for you. You have no idea how much your camera can help someone see their own value and beauty that they may have not seen in many, many years. We do Help-Portrait for the lonely, the forgotten, the abused. But the fun twist is that it reminds us what a special gift photography really is. This is for both sides of the camera. I hope you'll consider participating.

You'll want to tell your grandkids about it, I promise.

For more information, please visit http://www.help-portrait.com

From Kenn Tam:
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bret's picture

wise words, he has been one of my fav photographers for a while now. such a good guy. 

Matthew L Kees's picture


It is great you figured this out at such a young age.  Usually it takes decades before a photographer realizes what is important and what isn't with a camera.  Congrats!  
Matthew L Kees
Director of MLK Studios
BTW  Welcome to the revolution.  Glad to have you on our side.  #OWS

Four Minute Story's picture

I need to stop shooting for me. These photos do me no good.  I need to start shooting for others, and the adventure of getting to that picture is what I take home.  Thanks Jeremy, nice to be reminded each year that it is possible to change lives with the push of a button.

Wes O'Haire's picture

Great article. We've always got to keep our eyes on the big "SO THAT". We've got a Twitter following SO THAT we can influence people to help others in need. We shoot SO THAT we can shine a light on an important issue/cause. Make it matter.

Powerful. Stuff. Great reminder to live for greater things. Thanks Jeremy!

Dave Wilson's picture

Of course it's true.  A greatmany of us feel exactly the same way as Jeremy.  The problem is we haven't managed to reach that level of financial freedom to allow us to do anything else but slave away.  I do what I can, but it never feels like enough...

Stephen Pena's picture

I helped out with a help-portrait set up we had down here were i live last year and even though we didnt get a whole bunch of families, the appreciation showed by the ones we did shoot was overwhelming. It felt great to help out somebody who usually wouldnt be able to afford to pay for a professional photographer or maybe just never had the chance before. Well be doing it again this year and hopefully it will turn out to be bigger and better allowing us to help even more families and hopefully even see some familiar faces from last year.

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